Skip to main content

Full text of "Juror's Guide - If You Are On a Jury, Be Fully Informed"

// You are Facing Charges 



The following is not intended to substitute for competent legal assistance, nor is it to be 
construed as specific legal advice. However, we offer some observations which may be 
of general interest. 



Ask to sign the relevant paperwork for a jury trial immediately upon being charged. You can 
decide not to follow through later on, but it's not always possible to regain your right to 
trial by jury once it's been lost. 

The prosecutor may pressure you to accept a plea bargain, perhaps by threatening to 
escalate or multiply charges if you do not accept, or by assuring you that if you go before a 
jury, and lose, the punishment will be much worse than if they make a deal. 

You may wish to resist such intimidation, if you believe injustice is being done to you. 
Consider that if you plead guilty to breaking an unpopular law, you lengthen the time that 
you and everyone else will be subject to it, because neither you nor a jury will have an 
opportunity to express your opinion of it. And if your plea "bargain" includes a felony count, 
you're also giving up--without a fight--your right to vote, or serve on a jury, hold public 
office, or own a firearm. 

The so-called "Informed Jury defense", in which activists make a deliberate attempt to 
educate your trial jurors in their right to judge the law itself, and to vote on the verdict 
according to conscience, is gaining in popularity and effectiveness. We see more and more 
"hung juries" and outright acquittals of individuals charged with violating unpopular (usually 
political, or victimless crime) laws, or who were subjected to unconstitutional police 
procedures. 

The first phase is to create an awareness in the community about the real extent of the 
power that jurors wield; the next is to supply detailed information directly to the jurors 
who will actually hear your case. The first phase can be done by calling in to radio talk 
shows, writing letters to the editor, leafleting, advertising-whatever your time and money 
will permit. The second is best done by getting friends, family, or fellow fully informed jury 
activists to show up at the courthouse when your jury is being selected, to hand "True or 
False?" or other materials to the incoming jury pool--which usually means being there from 
about 7:30 to 9:00 am. 

Occasionally, leafleters will be hassled by the authorities, but to date no one has been 
convicted of anything for passing out fully informed jury brochures. In US v. Grace, 1983, it 
was determined that the sidewalks around a courthouse are a "free speech zone", and it 
seems that the word has gotten around to most of the nation's courts, punctuated by the 
fact that in those few cases where arrests have been made, the authorities are now facing 
lawsuits... or perhaps it's merely that prosecutors have reasoned (correctly) that if they 
arrest fully informed jury leafleters, the leaflets will have to be given to the leafleter's own 
jury as evidence... 



You can also spread information which argues that the law you're accused of breaking is a 
poor one, at the same time you inform people about jury power. Fully informed juries 
"combine well" with many "causes", especially those which involve reforming laws, although 
activists shouldn't take sides on any law. 

You may be accused of an offense which does not invoke your right to trial by jury itself. 
There are future plans to deal with this gross violation of your individual rights, but for the 
moment there is little that can be done. If you plan to break a law of one kind or another 
and "fight for justice in the courts" on behalf of one cause or another, therefore, it will pay 
you to check ahead of time to see what kind of offense you'll have to commit in order to 
get a trial by jury--and then make sure that jury is fully informed. 

And don't expect it to be easy to make your argument in court. You may not even be 
allowed to tell the jury why you did it, let alone what's wrong with the law or what the 
Constitution says. The jury will hear and see only the evidence and testimony allowed by 
the judge, and further restricted by the prosecutor. And you'll be facing jurors who have 
been both told and sworn by the judge to "follow the law as given", and told they "should" 
(sometimes even "must") find you guilty if the evidence supports a conviction. 

Under these circumstances, about the only way to "inform" the jury, once in court, is to hint 
at their power during voir dire (jury selection), then explain it during closing arguments--at 
least until the gavel slams down and you're threatened with contempt of court if you or 
your attorney continues! Take heed: contempt of court charges do not entail a trial by jury, 
just a show-cause hearing and judgment by the bench! 

You're not so likely to be stopped or threatened with contempt if you use part of your jury 
selection time, opening and especially closing remarks to remind your jurors about their 
role as the "conscience of the community", how the jury is an important player in our 
system of justice, that the jury stands as an important buffer between the accused person 
and the power of the government, and that these are the reasons America uses jurors, not 
computers, to judge a case. 

In short, without hitting the nail on the head and therefore being silenced, you're saying 
things which can help the jurors gain self confidence and a sense of power and 
independence- -and gambling that some of them may begin considering about why they're 
there. Besides, everything you're saying is not only true, it shows your respect for the jurors 
and the jury system, which is something the prosecution is not likely to do. 

Finally, if in fact justice in your case means exoneration, then we wish you every success in 
your defense.